I spent the day yesterday at the Interfaith Dialogue Conference, sponsored by Grand Valley State University and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. The link above will take you to the GVSU site, the Kaufman Institute and the conference site. Yesterday’s talks are not yet available on line (as of Friday, October 16, 2009) but the talks from 2006 are and are well worth your while.
One of the speakers, Donniel Hartman, made in interesting observation. He commented that God appears to care about what we humans think about God. We are prohibited from profaning the name of God. Hartman asked how can it be that the Creator of the Universe cares what we think? It is, he says, an absurd idea. Why should this matter to God?
It’s a question we might forget to ask. Those of us in the Abrahamic traditions have our Scriptures which we believe are God’s revelation to us. The idea that God reveals God’s self to us and that our response matters to God is part and parcel of our faith. That familiarity doesn’t mean the idea should go unexamined.
This concept that God’s reputation matters shows up in the Bible. Here are a couple of examples, you may add your own -and please do.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
In Psalm 74 a defeated Israel asks, “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? How long, Is the enemy to revile your name forever?” (v10-11).
When the people make the golden calf after the escape from Egypt, God is angry and tells Moses,
“Now let me alone,so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought our of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to the, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the starts of heaven, and al this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” (Exodus 32:10-14)
So it seems to matter to God what people think. At least Moses thinks God’s reputation is important. Otherwise why would he bring it up? And this line of reasoning works, God does not destroy the people who will become Israel.
Why does what we think matter to God? And it’s not only what believers think but what the neighbors, the non believers think. And not only non believers think but what the enemies think. Why does God care what his enemies think? I don’t know. Even though I don’t know why this is so, this does tell us something important about God. For reasons known only to God what we think, no matter who we are, matters to God.
Now I know for many of you this seems incredibly obvious. We matter to God. But why is there anything about us that is even remotely interesting to God? It’s amazing. We ought to be walking abound all day stunned by this revelation.
But as is our human inclination, we take God’s interest in us as our due. Of course God cares about what we think- how could God not find us fascinating and wonderful? We’re simply the most wonderful things ever made, right?
Even if we are the most wonderful thing ever made, or one of many wonderful things God made, the reality that God desires to be in a relationship with us is still astounding.
On at least one level, the fact that God cares what we think about God implies that the relationship with humans is important to God. And of course, if it’s important to God it should be important to us.
Relationships matter to God. Our relationship with God matters.
God cares about the relationship with Israel and with Israel’s enemies. So we should care about our relationships with our “Israel”, our families, neighbors, fellow citizens and also with our enemies.
God cares what people think about him. I don’t think this is because God is worried that people won’t like him. God is concerned that people know the true God, the God of Covenant faithfulness, the God who stands by Israel through thick and thin. God wants to be honestly and truthfully known. That is important for us as well. For us to be concerned about what people think about us doesn’t mean we should try to be someone we are not, but rather we should be concerned that we are known as a person of faith. A person of faith for whom honest and caring relationships matter.
Why does God care what we think about God? A mystery but a joyous one.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
One thought on “What Will the Neighbors Say?”
I like the thought that we should be stunned because God cares what we think about Him. That image is exciting because, it makes no sense that He should care. But if He cared enough to create us, He would care about our destiny–which depends on our thoughts about Him. So there’s the rationale. Yet, it truly is an amazing concept.